Advancing entrepreneurship in all communities

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Click here for Details on our Inclusive Entrepreneurship Summit on May 16, 2018

What is the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge?

The BX Challenge provides grant funding to innovative organizations that effectively recruit and support diverse entrepreneurs and scale startups in the Chicago area. The selected programs will serve underserved populations, including communities of color, women, veterans, and immigrants.

The inaugural BX Challenge will award up to $3 million in grant funding over 3 years.

Why Inclusive Entrepreneurship?

Over the past six years, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation has supported new company formation and job creation by investing in entrepreneurship globally. To continue economic growth and combat issues of economic disparity, all communities should have access to a full range of resources that help grow and scale local ventures. This first-of-its-kind program seeks to create a cohort of programs that employ innovative strategies to recruit, train, and scale these ventures.

Meet the Inaugural Cohort

  • Bethel New Life - $100,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will allow Bethel New Life, an organization focused on bringing individuals and families out of poverty, to launch a Business and Technology Program featuring a training course, workshop series and an expanded tech lab, in Chicago’s West Side.

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  • Bunker Labs - $150,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will allow Bunker Labs, an organization that helps military veterans launch and grow businesses through educational programs and networking, to create Guided Virtual Cohorts, a remote, high touch version of the successful Bunker in a Box platform, and the CEOcircle Program, a program which provides additional resources to later stage founders.

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  • BLUE1647 - $150,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will allow BLUE1647, an entrepreneurship and technology center serving Chicago’s South and West sides, to double the program offerings of BLUEINCUBATE, an accelerator offering shared workspace and membership to start-ups, tech-enabled businesses and individuals, allowing these entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, integrate technology into their strategy, and network with stakeholders and investors.

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  • 1871 - $150,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will support 1871, a hub for digital startup entrepreneurship in Chicago, to create the 1871 Community Curriculum Project that will digitalize content from its workshops and events to make it accessible to a wider audience of entrepreneurs including underserved communities.

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  • UI Labs - $100,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will support UI Labs, an innovation accelerator that brings together partners from “university + industry,” to create the City Digital: Inclusive Entrepreneurship for Collaborative Innovation, a partnership between City Digital and Colony 5 to help community based start-ups tackle complex urban challenges and explore ideas on smart city developments through entrepreneurship.

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  • Future Founders - $125,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will support Future Founders, an organization focused on inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs, in the creation of Future Founders Chicago Cohort, a program that fosters the development of millennial businesses from communities of color, women, veterans and immigrants with 1-on-1 biweekly mentoring, monthly cohort workshops, and an intensive two-day summit.

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  • IC Stars - $100,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will allow i.c.stars, an organization that provides technology-based training for low-income adults, to expand Enterprise Next, a three month lean startup training and incubation program, and to add a pitch night and Idea Hacks.

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  • Women’s Business Development Center - $125,000

    Blackstone Challenge funding will allow the Women’s Business Development Center, which aims to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and impact on the economy, to expand ScaleUp, a program which provides entrepreneurial education, one -on-one support and mentoring, to two new neighborhoods including West Rogers Park and South Chicago.

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Every American, no matter where they are from, deserves the chance to get ahead. That means we need to make it easier – not harder – for small businesses to get off the ground, especially for those led by women, Veterans, immigrants and people of color in underserved communities. I’m pleased these investments will help support a diverse group of entrepreneurs in Chicagoland area, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to make economic justice a reality for all Americans.
– United States Senator Tammy Duckworth

Learn How it works

  • Submission of Proposals

    Through an open RFP, proposals were accepted in early 2017. Please note: the application process is now closed.
  • Selection of Cohort

    8 organizations were selected for the first cohort, receiving a total of $1 million in grant funding. For more information on grantees, please see below.
  • Year 1 Activities

    Organizations will focus on deploying strategies to recruit and engage entrepreneurs from the target populations in their programs. Programs will officially launch in July 2017.
  • Year 2-3 Activities

    Organizations will focus on helping to scale and grow the most successful entrepreneurs within their programs.

Cohort Activities

We will host regular convenings and networking events for the cohort to foster collaboration and the sharing of best practices to maximize the regional impact of Blackstone's investment. In addition, we will link the leadership of the cohort with the resources of Blackstone and the broader Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Program Leadership

Jimmy Odom
Director, Inclusive Entrepreneurship

Jimmy Odom was co-founder and Senior Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of Intersect Illinois, the State’s public-private partnership driving business and economic opportunity. He is the immediate past Senior Advisor for Minority Business Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. In that role, Jimmy worked with communities across the state to help create, develop, and mature minority-owned businesses in the State of Illinois. Before joining the Department of Commerce, Jimmy founded WeDeliver, the largest hyper-local logistics service in Chicago. As CEO of WeDeliver, Jimmy was responsible for creating, communicating and implementing the vision, mission, and corporate direction. Prior to launching WeDeliver, Jimmy worked at Apple Inc. as the Head of Customer Experience for the Midwest region. Jimmy has been recognized by many business leaders within the Midwest entrepreneurial community. IBM awarded his team North America’s Most Innovative Company Award (2014). The Chicago Urban League presented him with the Chicago Urban League Innovator Award that same year (2014). He was featured on Crain’s Business Chicago’s 50 Most Influential People list (2014) and at the Moxie Awards his peers voted him the Best Founder in Chicago (2014). Jimmy was raised in Chicago, Illinois and now resides in Homewood with his wife and three children.

The ChicagoNEXT Inclusive Entrepreneurship Leadership Council

Meet the Leadership Council

Recent News

view all →

Jimmy Odom joins ChicagoNext after leaving state government post
Jimmy Odom, the tech entrepreneur who resigned from a state government position earlier this month, has taken a new job touching the public sector.
Continue reading at Chicago Tribune →
Jimmy Odom Joins World Business Chicago to Boost Tech Diversity in Chicago
Chicago-area entrepreneur Jimmy Odom will join World Business Chicago as ChicagoNEXT’s first Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship, the city announced Thursday.
Continue reading at Chicago Inno →
Chicago will get up to $3.4 million in grants to support diverse entrepreneurs
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation will give up to $3.4 million over three years to Chicago nonprofits that support entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, the group and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday evening.
Continue reading at Chicago Tribune →
Mayor Emanuel, Blackstone Charitable Foundation and World Business Chicago Launch Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and World Business Chicago (WBC) today launched the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge (“Blackstone Challenge”). The three-year pilot program will award up to $3.4 million in grants to innovative organizations that effectively recruit and support diverse entrepreneurs and scale start-ups in the Chicago area. The selected programs will serve diverse populations, including communities of color, women, veterans and immigrants. Chicago has been chosen as the first city for this pilot program.
Continue reading →

Brought to You By The Blackstone Charitable Foundation

I am thrilled that the Blackstone Charitable Foundation is launching its first inclusive entrepreneurship program in my hometown. We hope that this program will serve as a model for other cities seeking to increase support and opportunities for entrepreneurs from all communities.
— Jon Gray, Global Head of Blackstone Real Estate

Blackstone Charitable FoundationWorld Business ChicagoChicagoNEXT

About the Blackstone Charitable Foundation

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone’s initial public offering in 2007 with substantial commitments from the Firm’s employees. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas hardest hit by the global economic crisis. Through its investment expertise across several asset classes and geographies, Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries and communities.

Click here to learn more about the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

About World Business Chicago/ChicagoNEXT

World Business Chicago is a public-private, non-profit partnership that drives inclusive economic growth and job creation, supports business, and promotes Chicago as a leading global city.

Contact Us

For all questions related to the program, please email